It has been a challenging and exhausting year. If you heed the feminist theorist Donna Haraway, however, surviving and thriving in an age of uncertainty is all about “staying with the trouble”: sticking it out and banding together — humans, animals, microbes and others — on a damaged and strife-torn planet to build more livable futures. The Instagram accounts on this list represent artists and their supporters who have been fighting the good fight for decades — or who have recently joined the battle against stale ideas and narratives at a moment when technology, politics and the environment are changing at warp speed. Here are a few good ones to follow.
“Still snappin’!” Martha Cooper says in her Instagram profile. An elder stateswoman of graffiti art photography, many of the images you see in books on the history of street art were taken by Ms. Cooper. Regardless of your thoughts on graffiti (art or petty crime?), it remains one of the most viral and influential forms of visual culture produced in the United States. Ms. Cooper became one of the foremost photographers of this art form, which was largely invented in the 1970s by Black and Puerto Rican teenagers in the Bronx, wielding spray paint cans and creating work that was often immediately erased. Her Instagram account gives you snippets of that history; other entries show new practices, like street art transferred to the sails of sailboats in Brazil or murals and youth-center projects inaugurated by some of graffiti’s greats.
A Black History of Art
Alayo Akinkugbe, a Nigerian-born art history student at the University of Cambridge in Britain, is much newer to the game, but her calling is of the highest order: to give greater visibility to overlooked Black art history. Not even a year old, her Instagram already has nearly 50,000 followers, and she’s done Instagram “takeovers” for the National Portrait Gallery in London. Ms. Akinkugbe celebrates well-known artists like David Hammons and Simone Leigh, who was recently chosen as the first Black woman to represent the United States at the Venice Biennale in 2022. Ms. Akinkugbe also delves into lesser-known figures, however, like Clementine Hunter, a self-taught Creole artist from Louisiana who worked on the Melrose Plantation, set up by freed people of color in the 1830s, or photographs of the West African princess Omoba Aina, who was enslaved by the king of Dahomey and given to Queen Victoria, who adopted her as a goddaughter, and later married a Nigerian naval captain and returned to Africa.
Justseeds Artists’ Collective
Justseeds — a collective of artists from the United States, Canada and Mexico — has been making prints and posters for grass-roots social justice struggles since 1998. Sometimes these designs end up in the galleries; sometimes, in the streets or in people’s homes. Many Justseeds posters tackle serious issues like racism, xenophobia and Indigenous rights. Some are lighthearted, like Clifford Harper’s “I Didn’t Go to Work Today,” which argues for taking a nice, long rest; or celebratory, like a poster by Nicolas Lampert, a Milwaukee-based artist and author of “A People’s Art History of the United States,” championing Black farmers in Michigan.
Eileen Myles, who uses gender-neutral pronouns and the honorific Mx., is a poet who is also known for the groundbreaking coming-out and coming-of-age novel “Chelsea Girls” (1994). Mx. Myles has an Instagram feed filled with photographs that are lyrical and moving. Small quiet observations like the slant of sunlight across a wall recall Emily Dickinson. Sharp, pleasing jabs like a lollipop with a scorpion embedded in it make you question a bit of reality. Writing about Mx. Myles now also provides me an opportunity to give a shout out to the short, excellent film “The Trip” (2019), about a journey by car from Marfa, Texas, to the nearby city of Alpine with a gaggle of childhood hand puppets. I won’t give away the ending, but it’s piercing and subtly heartbreaking, like some of Mx. Myles’s photographs and poems referring to migrants held in cages erected by our government.
The video artist Lu Yang is one of the most innovative and imaginative artists coming out of China right now. Using digital tools to manipulate images of her own body, she explores ancient histories of living, dying and reincarnation and how mortality and existence is affected by technology. Radical, historical and hysterical, her Instagram is a universe of technical images, like the wild, grotesque “Uterus Man” (2013) or the delirious “Lu Yang Delusional Mandala” (2015), featuring the artist as a post-gender humanoid who seems to achieve mortality through digital means. Where her installations are enveloping and exhilarating, her Instagram feed offers snippets of her manic and visionary work.
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